Johannesburg - A passenger described how they were flung forward while in their seats when a British Airways pilot slammed on the brakes after the aircraft’s wing hit a building in a ground collision.
When they looked out of the window from the taxiing aircraft, they saw that the Boeing 747-400’s wing had “sliced through the wall” of a building at OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday night.
The building was a two-storey structure on the other side of a palisade fence and the wing hit the top floor, well above the fence line.
Four Bidvest employees who were in the building suffered minor injuries.
Steve Morgan and his wife were in the Heathrow-bound plane when he heard “incredible shaking” followed by the slamming of the brakes and everyone falling forward.
The Pretoria man said firefighters arrived immediately afterwards and sprayed foam.
“I thought we had hit something on the runway or that the suspension had collapsed. It could have been very bad. The pilot, I assume it was, came and told us not to panic and to be calm,” said Morgan, 63.
One of the passengers had taken sleeping pills before take-off and had to be woken up when everyone was evacuated from the aircraft. Morgan’s wife helped her out.
“She didn’t know where she was and kept falling asleep as she was being helped out. ‘I’m not drunk, I just took sleeping pills,’ she kept shouting. We eventually found a wheelchair for her,” said Morgan.
Carlos Eduardar, his wife Lena and their daughter Maria were also on the aircraft.
The Brazilian, who now lives in Fourways, described shaking, followed by sudden braking. He looked outside the window and saw the wing of the plane inside a building.
“I realised something was very wrong. There was a lot of fuel on the ground, and when I saw that, I realised we were at risk. Firefighters asked us to leave the aircraft in groups of 20 and told us to be calm. I was very upset, but because nothing happened to us, I was grateful. I heard that people in the building were injured,” he said.
It is believed that the pilot went onto the wrong taxiway, which was not big enough to carry the aircraft.
The Air Traffic and Navigation Services Company of SA (ATNS) would not comment on how the plane ended up on the wrong taxiway. The aircraft would have been under ATNS instruction at the time.
“It’s a mystery. We cannot say anything at this point,” said ATNS spokesman Percy Morokane. He said ATNS would make statements to the SA Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which is responsible for the investigation.
CAA spokeswoman Phindi Gwebu said the aircraft had been cleared for take-off and the crew were instructed to move it towards taxiway B.
She explained that there was a point where taxiway B ends and becomes taxiway M.
“The pilot was supposed to turn but did not, and instead continued to taxiway M, which is narrower for that aircraft. The plane hit the building with a wing. People inside were injured by falling debris as the wing cut though the building.”
Gwebu added that none of the crew and passengers in the aircraft were injured.
“There was also a fuel spillage, but it was contained as soon as possible,” she said.
CAA investigators have removed the flight recorder from the aircraft for the investigation.
British Airways spokesman Stephen Forbes said the airline provided the passengers with accommodation and arranged alternative flights.
“We have launched a full investigation into the incident and are giving our assistance to the CAA,” Forbes said.
Airports Company South Africa spokeswoman Unathi Batyashe-Fillis said flight BA034 was taxiing on a runway preparing for take-off when it collided with the building around 10.40pm. “No injuries were reported on board the plane. Four ground-handling employees who were in the building experienced minor injuries,” she said.
Gwebu said 17 crew and 185 passengers were on board